When crowds filed through the gates at many of the Six Flags theme parks that opened for the season last weekend, they saved money on admission, gifts, and food when they paid with a MasterCard.

Through a one-year sponsorship, MasterCard International has become the "official card and preferred payment system" for Six Flags Theme Parks Inc., a Time Warner Entertainment Co. based in Parsippany, N.J.

Six Flags says that with more than 21 million people visiting its seven locations annually, it is the largest regional theme park company in the United States. Also, it says, the parks are within a day's drive for 85% of the population.

"What we have is a national sponsorship that can manifest itself locally and that a lot of cardholders can take advantage of," said Mava K. Heffler, MasterCard's vice president of U.S. promotions.

"If it is the case that MasterCard is looking to position itself as a card for the masses, Six Flags certainly seems like a sensible sponsorship," noted David Jacobsen, senior editor of IEG Sponsorship Report, a biweekly newsletter in Chicago.

"It has been acknowledged in the marketing press that MasterCard is looking to capture more of a mass audience," Mr. Jacobsen said. "Six Flags probably offers MasterCard access to that audience in a way that sponsorship of theater performances, which American Express uses, does not."

In fact, Ms. Heffler said that Six Flags' demographics are a key to tie a broad and diverse base of MasterCard holders and members across the country.

For example, in an effort to cater to a segment of the population attracted by prestige, MasterCard is negotiating with individual parks to get preferred treatment for gold card holders, such as early opening, special seating, and entry lines.

The New York-based association said the sponsorship creates opportunities for members to build acquisition, usage, retention, and reactivation of all MasterCard credit and debit cards, and for the MasterCard/Cirrus automated teller machine network. Cirrus ATMs will be installed in the parks.

"Like our World Cup sponsorship, one of the real added values here is our sponsorship flows through us to our members," Ms. Heffler said.

MasterCard has created a Six Flags MasterValues travel/destination program featuring local merchants and area attractions that members can send to cardholders throughout the year. In addition, Six Flags savings will be offered through its summer MasterValues program via newspaper inserts and statement inserts.

When MasterCard is used to buy an admission ticket, cardholders receive a coupon book for a total $30 of savings on items in the park. Gold MasterCard holders receive a $50 savings coupon book. Separately, cardholders get an exclusive 10% discount on all in-park purchases made with MasterCard.

Mondays and Tuesday are designated MasterCard days at the parks, allowing cardholders an unlimited number of "buy one, get one free," admission passes.

As part of the sponsorship, MasterCard signs will be featured throughout the parks and advertising will be shown on in-park closed- circuit television. And the MasterCard logo and marketing material will appear in a variety of Six Flags' promotional vehicles.

The seven theme parks are Six Flags over Texas in Dallas/Fort Worth, Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta, Six Flags over Mid-America in St. Louis, Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston, Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, Six Flags Magic Mountain/Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Los Angeles, and Six Flags Great America in Chicago.

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